New York’s Criminal Justice Reform Causes Divide on Staten Island
By: Ruben Sibri
Amongst national and international news many New York residents can come to forget about local government and state affairs that have a wide array of impact on their everyday lives.
The New York State Assembly and Senate have finally been able to pass a significant criminal justice reform due to the Senate flipping from Republican to Democrat earlier in 2018.
The reform comes in three parts.
Bail reform is the first part, discovery reform is the second, and speedy trial reform is the third.
Below the three parts of reform are defined per the governor’s website.
Bail reform “eliminates cash bail for most defendants to ensure an individual’s wealth is no longer the determining factor for pre-trial detention while awaiting their day in court.”
Discovery reform “requires the prosecution and defense to share all information in their possession well in advance of trial and enables defendants to review evidence the prosecution possesses prior to pleading guilty to a crime.”
Lastly, speedy trial “addresses excessively long pre-trial periods to reduce the backlog of criminal cases by requiring courts to increase accountability, reducing unnecessary delays, and ensuring all parties are prepared for trial.”
The governor and state representatives have been proud of themselves for passing the reform.
The bill was passed with the intent of being a step forward in progressive legislation that lets people be treated more equally under the eyes of the law despite their economic status.
The bill also hopes to help victims and defendants better navigate the system at hand, hoping to reduce the number of pre-convicted prisoners in jail and helping to move the process along for those awaiting trial.
Despite these intents the bill has been seeing a wave of concerns from local lawmakers and law enforcement.
A few weeks ago Staten Island District Attorney Mike McMahon alongside Queens’ acting District Attorney John M. Ryan declared at a press conference that “We are here today jointly to urge Albany to fix this before some innocent victims are hurt or injured.”
Some concerns include violent criminals being released, judges not having discretion to set bail where they see fit, and victims failing to cooperate because they might see discovery reform as disclosure of information they could deem unsafe to their well-being.
These concerns have been echoed across local residents and community boards.
In a recent SI Live Op-Ed, Christopher Pisciotta, attorney in charge of the Staten Island Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society, refuted the arguments McMahon also made in Op-Ed.
Pisciotta points to other places that have had similar reforms and says, “The Kings County District Attorney’s Office has been practicing open file discovery for decades. In Brooklyn, the defendant receives the evidence against him almost at the start of the case. Yet, witnesses are still showing up to court. Victims are still pressing forward and testifying at trial. Same thing goes for New Jersey.”
He also goes on to say that this legislation would not be needed if bail was used correctly as a means for defendants to “return to court when required. It is not to keep the defendant, who may not be guilty of any crime, incarcerated while the prosecutor delays the case for years.”
The law comes into effect in 2020. Arguments for and against it have pretty strong contenders on both sides.
Some argue that the reform was rammed through and has overreached while others argue it should have happened long ago.
Staten Islanders and the rest of New York will have to patiently wait until January to see how this reform will impact courts, prisons, victims, and defendants.